ATU227 – Learning Ally College Success Program Wearable Technology for People with

first_imgWADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this, plus much more, over at That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana. Podcast: Play in new window | DownloadYour weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.Show Notes:Learning Ally College Success with Mary Alexander and Kristin Witucki wristbands predict outbursts in people with autism – Telegraph Currents: September/ October 2015 – United States Access Board Flexible, Wearable Tactile Sensor Developed for Healthcare Applications WebMD |——————————Listen 24/7 at www.AssistiveTechnologyRadio.comIf you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email [email protected] out our web site: https://www.eastersealstech.comFollow us on Twitter: @INDATAprojectLike us on Facebook:——-transcript follows ——KRISTIN WITUCKI: My name is Kristi Witucki, and I’m the community lead for students who are blind or visually impaired at Learning Ally.MARY ALEXANDER: This is Mary Alexander, and I’m the national program director for people who are blind or visually impaired at Learning Ally, and this is your assistance technology update.WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.Welcome to episode number 227 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on October 2 of 2015.Today I’m excited to have Mary Alexander and Kristin Witucki from Learning Ally talking about their college success program, very innovative, really cool kind of stuff. I’m excited to have some conversation with them to talk about that.Also there’s some interesting information from the US Access Board about their staff and some other information about airports and accessibility and all kinds of good stuff. We have a story coming from China about highly flexible wearable tactile microfluidic sensors for healthcare applications. Pretty cool features that kind of stuff. And the folks over at BridgingApps talk with us a little bit about the web MDF.We hope you’ll check out our website at the, shoot us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or call our listener line, ask a question, give us some feedback. We love to hear your voice. The number is 317-721-7124.***From our friends over at RESNA, we’ve learned about a story in the Telegraph over in the UK. The headline reads “Biometric Wristbands Predict Outbursts in People with Autism.” The idea is we have all kinds of wearable technology that can measure things like heart rate and skin temperature and even whether you’re getting sweaty or not, and sometimes those signals might be able to predict that somebody with autism is getting ready to have a behavioral outbreak. They may not be able to communicate that on their own. The sensors would allow a caregiver or loved one to know that those kinds of physical symptoms are starting to happen and might be able to provide some support. It’s not quite ready yet. It still says it’s a couple of years out from being available, but I’m going to pop a link in the show notes over to the Telegraph article and you can learn more about this promising technology that might help folks with autism get a little help when their body says that their behaviors are getting ready to change. Check our show notes.***The United States Access Board is one of the main organizations that deals with disability issues and accessibility at the federal level. They actually have a really good e-newsletter that has a lot of cool stories in it. I’m looking at the September and October edition of the newsletter, and a couple of these are interesting. One, it mentions here that President Obama has appointed two new members to the access board: Dr. Victor Santiago Pineda, and also Karen Tamly. They join the friend of our show Satya Pavithron who is currently the chair of the access board. They mention that they’ve had a new program analyst and they talk about an upcoming accessibility forum that’s going to be held in Washington DC. They talk about some changes that are happening related to airport accessibility to make air travel just a little bit easier for users of service animals. For example, it requires that at least one of these areas for service animals must be provided within each terminal within a year of the ruling. The last thing that I found interesting in this article, or in this newsletter, is the Centers for Disease Control now have released findings that says twenty-two percent of the US population, over 53 million people, have a disability pertaining to vision, cognition, mobility, self-care, or independent living. So that’s an increased number of the percentage of people with disabilities that’s been estimated. Lots of good stuff, lots of good details in this newsletter that came from the access board. I’ll pop a link in the show notes, although it came to me via email, I’ll pop a link over to web-based version of that so you can not only check out these interesting new stores but you can also send them for their email list there and will get access to the same information when it comes out. I’ll pop a link in the show notes.***There’s a group of scientists over in China at the national University of Singapore. They have created a thing that they call a wearable liquid-based microfluidic tactile sensor that’s small, thin, highly flexible and durable. Sensors are normally connected to wires, copper wires or other kinds of wires, and they don’t do well in situations where they get beat up, banged up, or they need to be very flexible and move around. That becomes particularly true in assistive technology as we think about things like healthcare monitoring, prosthetic devices that might need to have pressure sensors to talk about how the thing fits and is it wearing down and those kinds of things. The interesting thing about this is these guys have created a sensor that doesn’t rely on wires. It’s fluid. The fluid is so small that they can make itty-bitty little sensors and put them in places that move a lot, that need to be put into places where a wire might break or wear down. In fact, they are building it into silicon rubber and other kinds of nano materials that allow them to put the sensors and places they never could before. Also, the sensors are incredibly durable. They run over them with a car tire and it didn’t change the electrical output from the stuff. This is sort of an early research kind of story that I’m reading, but I think long-term there are a lot of implications here for medical Assistance technology and anything that requires more of these sensors that need to be put into places that are kind of hard to reach. Anyway, this comes from Medical Design Technology Magazine, and I’m going to pop a link in the show notes where you can read more about this and see a picture of the school stuff.***Each week, one of our partners tells us happening in the ever-changing world of apps, so here’s an App Worth Mentioning.AMY BARRY: This is Amy Barry with BridgingApps, and this is an App Worth Mentioning. This segment’s app is called WebMD. Long known for its online presence as a medical information resource that is centered around symptoms, WebMD has taken its database and search function into the mobile device technology market with its app. The portability and instant access to the vast amount of medical information contained within WebMD is the highlight of this app.WebMD organizes its content into five categories of information: a symptom checker, which allows the user to select various symptoms they are experiencing to formulate a list of possible medical conditions; there’s a database filled with descriptions of many different health conditions; a thorough drug information section; a first aid reference area; and there is also a location service for finding nearby physicians, hospitals, and pharmacies.A seniors group who live independently interacted with the app and highlighted the health provider location service and the first aid information area as their favorite parts of the app. Also, a family with a loved one who is medically involved also trialed WebMD. The adult family member who had a stroke resulting in physical and cognitive impairments is now working to increase his independence. With the WebMD, he was able to navigate through the app successfully, and he enjoyed the symptom checker feature where he was just to be able to tap on a human body image and the location where he had concerns, and a checklist of possible symptoms appeared. Once the symptoms were selected, a list of possible health conditions were formulated and served as a good reference for him.BridgingApps sees WebMD as a very good tool for families to use to develop and fine-tune their communication and questions in preparation for when they interact with their healthcare team, but does caution against any self-diagnosis. The drug and treatment section is excellent to educate users on potential and sometimes very serious drug, food, and nutrient interactions, as well as side effects of certain medications. The capability to select and store one’s medical conditions and medications is a feature of this app, but BridgingApps suggest a user store that information on other apps designed specifically for managing one’s own or family’s health care and to use WebMD as one of their references for medical information only. WebMD is available at the iTunes, Google play, and Amazon stores for free and is compatible with both iOS and Android devices. For more information on this app and others like it, visit***WADE WINGLER: We live in a time when access to information is just so important. It’s critical to success with your wording or a student. Speaking of students, there’s nowhere this more true than in a college classroom. It’s really hard to be successful as a student if you don’t have access to information and technology and all those kinds of things. Recently I became aware of the project called College Success from Learning Ally. I’m excited today to have Mary Alexander and Kristin Witucki on the line to talk about that. Mary, Kristin, welcome.MARY ALEXANDER: Thank you.KRISTIN WITUCKI: Thank you.WADE WINGLER: I’m so glad that you ladies took some time out of your morning this morning and have traversed with me the technology, the magic or the trouble that we’ve had getting our technology lined up and working this morning. I think we are in for a pretty interesting interview. Now, I have been aware of Learning Ally for a while, but I thought some folk in my audience might not be. Mary, could you give us a quick overview of Learning Ally for folks who might not be aware?MARY ALEXANDER: I will. Thank you, Wade. Thank you also for having Kristin and I am. We really appreciate it. Learning Ally, we began as Recording for the Blind back in 1948 in New York City. Your readers or listeners may have heard the story that a woman named Ann McDonald was very moved because of the vision loss suffered by World War II veterans returning home. They couldn’t access the G.I. Bill. She was really moved by that. She activated a group of her friends and almost 70 years later we are still here. We are still spread across the country with our headquarters in Princeton. We still have studious on the ground. we also now have virtual studios. But our studio focus and our recording and our production facilities focus on educational materials. These are the textbooks that students use site receipts can be a use, but also some of the literature students use that might be hard to find in an accessible format any other way. We are nonprofit. We rely on philanthropy to survive. Our employees are very deeply rooted in our mission, so we have a great group. It’s a wonderful organization to work for.WADE WINGLER: Good. Mary, I should’ve asked at the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about your role the organization?MARY ALEXANDER: Sure. I am the national program director for initiatives for the blind or visually impaired. What that means is I started working in school about 20s ago with [Inaudible], and as we grew, our initiative took on two very distinct shapes, but often overlap each other. We have initiatives that apply to students who have learning disabilities like dyslexia or other language-based disabilities, and also those initiatives that are for the blind or visually impaired. Very often they do overlap, but they are not always exactly the same. My job is to, those programs and pieces that apply directly to the blind or visually impaired, I am the director over those. I make sure that they are sustainably funded, and I make sure that they are implemented in a way that we have agreed to implement them for our foundation. Just as a side, I have a really personal reason for working for Learning Ally. My youngest is blind. He is now in college, so this has been an organization very close to my heart. It’s meant a lot for my family. It’s an important group.WADE WINGLER: Absolutely. I hear that pretty routinely. Kristin, can you tell me a little bit about your role with the organization, and I’m going to ask you what is the College Program and what does it mean.KRISTIN WITUCKI: Okay. My title is community lead for students who are blind or visually impaired. I’ve held a number of roles over the years over the last 10 years or so. I was born blind, so I went to college and graduate school as a blind person and had a background in English education. I was really excited with this opportunity opened last year for me to first run the content acquisition for the website for the program and then later on to take on the mentorship part of the program. The college success program is a way we can reach as many college students as possible with a variety of different solutions. Either they can use one or a couple of them. Through the generosity of our funding from the [Inaudible], we are able to offer college students who are blind or visually impaired free membership so that includes access to the audiobook library. We can offer them a website where they can go to check out resources related specifically to college success for students who are blind or visually impaired. And then persons who really want a deeper experience or need some more personal assistance, we can actually match them with mentors who are graduates of college who are blind or visually impaired. We really excited about this program.WADE WINGLER: It’s sounds exciting to me. Mary, can you tell me a little bit about how college success fits within Learning Ally’s mission or core services, or is this something totally different?MARY ALEXANDER: That the great question, Wade. A few years ago, actually probably 2011, we did a research project that was around families and students with learning disabilities. We were looking at how Learning Ally could support those families, because it was very apparent that they were lacking in support, maybe from the school system, possibly from the community at large, and so from that developed the support program for families of students who suffer through learning disabilities. After the research project that we’ve done — we used to call it the Lavelle Program as a nod to our funder, but now it’s the college success program. After we did the research around the program, it was very apparent that there were similar gaps in support for students. Learning Ally, when we change our name, which was right about the same time, we came to the awareness of the needs around families. We changed on it because we wanted to be more than an audiobook supplier, audiobook producer. The needs of the population that we serve are greater than just the need for accessible material. Very often, they can go hand-in-hand, and because we already had experts in the field working with schools in our present office, people like Kristin and myself who know a lot about the families and their struggles that they go through, it just seems like a natural fit. The people that we work with that are generous and support us philosophically, they agreed with us. Well we are not going to stop recording audiobooks ever, this is just a natural extension of that. It’s just a little bit of an additional support.WADE WINGLER: That makes a ton of sense. Kristin, you are uniquely positioned to have some insight into those challenges. Can you talk to me little bit about what are some of the challenges that college and two are blind or visually impaired deal with?KRISTIN WITUCKI: Actually, right before I took on this role, this organization conducted an ethnographic research study. Basically that means we wanted to learn very deeply from a few people rather than a huge scale. We wanted to learn from their stories. We learned from, I think about 15 college students around the country about what the challenges were. Based on that research, we concluded that there challenges fell into five core areas. They had challenges in learning effectively, which means keeping themselves at the center of their learning and not marginalizing themselves. Managing or advocating to professors, so explaining to professors what they need to learn and how they are prepared to succeed in the classroom and what help they might need. Discovering technology, which is what it sounds like, being able to use technology efficiently and to apply it to a college setting. Connecting with a disability services office or other on-campus resources, which many students sort of had trouble leaving the commendations process. They were sort of wait for the office to figure out what they needed and then be suppressed when the office couldn’t. And then the final area was around social isolation, so students were spending so much time keeping up with the academic demands of college much more time than their sighted peers were that they wouldn’t have time or energy to socialize, or if they did, they were worried about it. A lot of our students were very isolated in the college experience.WADE WINGLER: As somebody who spent a lot of time on college campuses, the social part can be really important.KRISTIN WITUCKI: Yeah. It’s huge, because this is the first time many people are out on their own away from the family, or in some cases actually our students actually lived at home, so the kind of compounded their isolation. When you’re on college campus, a lot of the calls to invitation are visual.WADE WINGLER: Absolutely. Mary, how is the program structured so that a response to some of those needs, and how is it administered? What’s the platform like? And is there a cost?MARY ALEXANDER: There is no cost for the program. I’ll answer that one first. We really excited to be able to offer this as a completely free service to students who are blind or visually impaired who are in college. We do put that requirement on. We have opened it up and allow students who were seniors in high school to begin join the college success program, but we really have and most of our resources and most of our curriculum around students who are already in college. The platform for the program is, on our regular website, we have a complete section that’s devoted only to the college success program. I’ll give you the link to it. It’s Anyone who’s interested who wants to go to that site, you can just look over it, and browse the site. At some point, though, it will ask you if you’d like to join the college success program. We have several different levels at which people can say I’m interested in hearing more about it. But the program itself has three different pillars to it. What is the curriculum and content, which is our online resources. Kristin has been an amazing job at working with our advisory panel. We have an advisory panel that includes people like Jane Erin who is with the teacher preparation program, or I just recently retired from the teacher preparation program at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She’s just a leading national individual who knows a lot about serving students or educating teachers to serve students who are blind or visually impaired. Another luminary on our panel is Ellen Strief. Dr. Strief is with the teacher program at Hunter College in New York City. There are several more. That curriculum is primarily due to Kristin and her work with an instructional content consultant that we brought on board and our mentors and this advisory panel. With a ton of help in making sure that fisheries are what they need to be. The other piece of our program is the mental program. These mentors don’t meet with our students face-to-face. This is a virtual mentor relationship. It’s all of the entire semester. It’s usually a phone relationship primarily. We’ve also given them a peer-to-peer network spot where mentors and students can meet together. We try to have several different kinds of interactions for students. You have to keep them engaged. With everything going on for our students, we are competing against games and other things that they want to do. We want to be sure that they stay engaged with the program and that they come back to us when they need help from us. The third pillar of our program is our accessible materials Library. Our audiobook library is really important to this. It’s been something that some students will join just because they can get the audiobook library membership, but if they’ll even read the article or one resource, I think you’ll be hooked, and they’ll keep coming back for more. We’ve had great site traffic on our curriculum and content. I’m very encouraged that this is going to be a program that since really want to use.WADE WINGLER: It sounds really exciting. We’re getting a little close on time for the interview here, but before we wrap things up, Kristin, tell me about how the program is being received pick what’s the buzz?KRISTIN WITUCKI: We have 168 member so far as of the end of April when we launched the site. We have right now five mentors and 40 students that they are working with. We’re really excited about that. It’s really been taking off, especially over the last month and a half.MARY ALEXANDER: Wade, I would love to talk just very briefly about our mentors and why they are so special.WADE WINGLER: Go right ahead.MARY ALEXANDER: So our mentors are the students who are blind or visually impaired. They have varying level of visual acuity. They are all outstanding in the use of technology. Our mentors, we are very choosy about who we use for our mentors because these are changing students’ lives every single day. We have STEM experts, several of our mentors are working on their doctorate in STEM subjects like organic chemistry or human centered design. They are also all over the country. We’ve been pretty strategic and how we place or how we pick our mentors because we have to serve all time zones. The mentors don’t work during office hours primarily because they have other stuff going on. They are very professional. They are amazing. They are really changing our students’ lives.WADE WINGLER: Excellent. There’s tons of exciting stuff going on here. You sound very valuable. If people want to learn more, you listed the website address. Could you repeat that for me.MARY ALEXANDER: It’s We also have an email address just for the college success program. That’s [email protected] They could also reach out to Kristin or myself. I’m [email protected] Kristin is [email protected] WINGLER: Mary Alexander and Kristin Witucki are with Learning Ally and they had told us about this exciting new college success program. Mary, Kristen, thank you so much for being with us today.MARY ALEXANDER: Thank you, Wade.KRISTIN WITUCKI: Thank you. 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